During the 20th Century, men and women from all four corners of the United States, including from the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area, answered America’s call and went to fight its wars. Some went to fight in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, 1918, and others stormed the beaches at Normandy in 1944 or fought in the jungles of Iwo Jima in 1945. Some served and froze at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950 while others fought the communist during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Still others answered the call and were sent to Kuwait to defeat the Iraqi Republican Guard in 1991 and over ten years later, Americans fought the Republican Guard again in Iraq and went into the mountains of Afghanistan to hunt for Osama Bin Laden.
Included in those that went to war from this area were Greek-Americans. Some born in the United States to immigrant parents, others immigrating to the United States. They answered America’s call and some paid the ultimate price. In the mid-1940s, the survivors, now known as and truly are, the Greatest Generation, veterans of World War II, came home to restart their lives. In their minds, they did their duty, won the war, and now it was back to school, back to the jobs they left, marry and start families. It was all part of life.
They all had something in common though – the common thread of experiences that war weaved through their lives especially the loss of comrades, friends and even brothers. That common thread brought them together and they needed a place to meet and talk with others that held the common thread and to remember those that did not come home.
From that common thread, the Eleftheria VFW Post #6633 was born.
The post is the only known Veterans of Foreign War Post in the United States with its membership made up predominantly of Greek-Americans, although opened to all, and its base is at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Unofficially, the Post started on November 4, 1945, but the National VFW granted the Post a charter on April 26, 1946.
Membership in the Post is, of course, waning since America’s wars have never reached the staggering numbers of men and women that served in World War II, and as each year goes by, many are passing on. These Veterans realize this fact and understand that it is essential to preserve the stories of their members for future generations. We all see the statues dedicated to veterans of America’s past wars that dot our cities and towns throughout this land, but they don’t tell the story of the fear, agony, and bravery of what each individual that fought in these wars went through.
In April 2013, the Post published a book, “Honor & Remembrance,” giving a brief history of Greek-Americans in the Philadelphia area from the beginning of the 20th Century, a history of how the Post was founded and its early meetings, a history of the wars fought by its members, and, more importantly, the narratives and military summaries of its members.
Reading these narratives, one is amazed at what these veterans went through and accomplished. Narratives include George Abramides with the 1st Marine Division invading Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942; Basily A. Karavassily, Corporal in the US Army Air Force, 51st TC Squadron, who participated in the Tunisian Campaign in North Africa; Sgt. William Phillips, 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, a door-gunner aboard a US Army armed helicopter in Vietnam; Theodore S. Kallelis, a 1st Sgt., with the 79th Division 313th Infantry Regiment, who landed on Utah Beach 8 days after the invasion and was wounded at the battle for Bloody Hill at Montgarden; Seaman 1st Class Louis Koutsouros, who was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga when it was struck by Japanese Kamikazi planes; Corporal Tasos J. Gianiotis, who served with the OSS (CIA’s predecessor) and infiltrated into occupied Greece; Helen Foundoulakis Tamaccio, who joined the US Navy after Pearl Harbor as a Yeoman 1st Class in the WAVES and assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, Main Naval Amputee Health Center and the POW Rehab Ward; and many, many more.
Today, we look at these men and women as grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, and fellow Hellenes. We see them as little old ladies that help in the church and old men that have trouble walking up and down the stairs. Some we see as elder statesmen or retired businesspeople and professionals or a housewife that raised a family. We see them every day, yet we truly do not see them. For they are veterans – men and women who served their country honorably. They were once young, vibrant individuals who had dreams of their own but put them on hold to fight America’s wars. They fought and some died and others survived. They’re time in service helped, and in many cases, save the world from tyranny.
The freedoms we enjoy today are because of them. The lone soldier fighting his way across the fields of France, the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of North Africa and Kuwait, or the rice paddies of Vietnam; the sailor on aircraft carriers in the middle of Pacific, on boats patrolling the Mekong River, or escorting merchant ships across the Atlantic; the Marine storming the beach, island hopping across the Pacific Islands, or chasing the Taliban in Afghanistan; and, the pilot dogfighting over North Korea, in a B-17 flying a bombing run over Europe, or flying a UH-1 Huey attack helicopter dropping US forces in remote areas of Vietnam.
These are the stories of the men and women of Eleftheria Post #6633 in “Honor & Remembrance.” Our friends at Cosmos Philly have partnered with the Greek-American Heritage Society of Philadelphia to bring you video interviews from the narratives of this book, which will be featured from time to time, and to promote the book for the benefit of our veterans and our future generations.
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” This line was part of the Gettysburg Address given by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863 as part of the dedication ceremonies of Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Although these solemn words were said during United States Civil War, these few words could have been said anywhere in the world, at any time in history, and upon any battlefield. “Honor & Remembrance” can never replace the deeds these veterans did but it will preserve the stories of these men and women and what they sacrificed for our country and us.
To order your copy of “Honor and Remembrance,” and to support the men and women of Eleftheria Post #6633, contact: George Roebas, Telephone: 610-964-0225, Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost of the book is $35.00.
To become a patron of the Greek-American Heritage Society of Philadelphia and to see their upcoming events and programs, please go to www.gahsp.org. Our heritage makes us unique. Share yours.
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